Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Matthew Warchus
Stars: Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Dominic West, Paddy Considine, Andrew Scott, Ben Schnetzer, George MacKay, Joseph Gilgun, Faye Marsay, Freddie Fox, Lisa Palfrey, Jessica Gunning, Menna Trussler.
Politics often makes for strange bedfellows, and so it is with this true story about two opposite communities drawn together by a common cause and a struggle against injustice an bullying. The crippling miners strike in Britain in 1984, brought about as a result of Thatcher’s closure of the pits, produced a reluctant alliance between a group of gays from London and burly no-nonsense Welsh miners. Like the winning Billy Elliot, Brassed Off and The Full Monty before it, Pride is another crowd pleasing comedy/drama set against the background of a blue collar town.
It is 1984, and the crippling miner’s strike has dragged on, and the miners and their families are hurting financially. But they are also being beaten by the police and pilloried by the tabloid newspapers. Marcus Ashton (played by Ben Schnetzer) was a gay activist who recognised that the experience of the miners was similar to that of treatment dished out on a regular basis to the gay community, and he organised some friends to help raise money to give to the miners and support their cause.
Initially though their offer of financial aid is rebuffed by the homophobic miner’s union, who do not want to be associated with gays. Marcus decides to go straight to the source and he contacts the small village of Onllwyn in the Dulais valley directly. Through a meeting with Dai (Paddy Considine), the soft spoken local mayor, the group calling itself LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support The Miners) are invited to pay a visit to Onllwyn. With support from a few sympathetic locals, including housewife and volunteer Sian (Jessica Gunning), they manage to break down the barriers and stereotyped suspicions about their lifestyle, and a strong bond develops between the two communities that would have been unthinkable a few years previously.
However, the bitter widow Maureen (Lisa Palfrey) poisons her own two sons and a few within the tight knit community with her malice, her prejudice and her ill-informed opinions.
Another quite intriguing and powerful subplot centres around shy college student Joe (George MacKay, from How I Live Now, Sunshine On Leith, etc), who hails from a conservative family in the suburb of Bromley, and who cautiously emerges from the closet at this turbulent period of British social history. But while his parents may disapprove of his choices, he is welcomed warmly by Marcus and his friends. And there is a village in Wales that think he is a hero.
Pride has been directed at a leisurely pace by Matthew Warchus, a noted Tony award winning theatre director making only his second feature film after the little seen Simpatico. The film unfolds with a lot of gentle humour, and Warchus gives the material an upbeat vibe throughout. Pride is also a touch manipulative in its treatment of the material. First time writer Stephen Beresford juggles the various characters and subplots with ease, but he doesn’t shy away from the darker undertones of the story. The spectre of AIDS also hangs over events as the deadly disease was starting to make its presence felt amongst the gay community at the same time. Tat Radcliffe’s cinematography is also great and he captures plenty of superb vistas of the Welsh countryside.
Warchus has assembled a superb cast of both veterans and rising young actors to bring the colourful characters to life and they all do a superb job.
Schnetzer (from The Book Thief, etc) is excellent and likeable as Marcus and he brings passion and fire to his performance. MacKay is good as the nervous and shy Joe, who comes of age during these events. Andrew Scott (who plays Moriarty in the tv series Sherlock, etc) is touching as Gethen, the Welsh owner of a gay bookshop who has been hurt by past tragedies and hasn’t returned to his home village for over a decade. Dominic West is enthusiastic and flamboyant as his partner Jonathan, who breaks down some barriers when he shows the ladies of Onllwyn how to boogie.
Imelda Staunton is a ball of energy as the delightful and strong willed Hefina, who staunchly supports the efforts of LGSM. Bill Nighy normally plays more powerful and confident characters, but here he delivers a more subtle, minimalist and understated performance as the quiet and introverted town historian and former miner Cliff. Considine often plays men with a hard edge, but here he brings a more subtle, compassionate and generous quality to his performance.
The film also features a great soundtrack of 80s disco and gay anthems, that includes the likes of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Culture Club and Bronski Beat, which provides a nostalgic touch.
Pride is a wonderfully affecting, life affirming story about the clash of cultures, the struggle for self respect, equality and social justice, and even pride. It is also a genuine crowd pleaser with a big heart. There are a couple of scenes that may bring a lump to your throat. At the preview I attended there were quite a few sniffles from the audience, and a spontaneous round of applause at the end. Which is indeed rare in this era of empty blockbusters and shallow spectacle.